I think it is high time that each and every member of the Church of England had a direct vote for their representatives: One member: One vote.
At the moment Church members elect representatives to the Deanery Synod. Then Deanery Synod members elect members of the Diocesan and General Synods.
These few lay people become involved in the workings of the Church at every level. But worshippers and decision makers are largely disconnected from one another – and this disconnection is built into the legal structure of the Church.
The gap between central government and the parish is too great. The voice from the pew is muffled and distorted on its way to the ears of General Synod. Some representatives work hard to report back, but there is no structured accountability.
Direct election would mean that those elected should account to their electorate. It would mean the electorate have an incentive and encouragement to inform themselves on the issues, and to relate directly to their representatives. It would mean that all lay members should be taken seriously as full, adult, active members of the church.
Direct election would not solve the Church’s problems. But it would embody the conviction that God works through the whole church, not merely through the chosen few.
How we got into this trap
There are two core reasons why we have an indirect voting system.
First, in the discussions leading to General Synod through the 1960s, the clerical establishment did not trust the laity. Second, this was the minimum level of lay involvement necessary to persuade Parliament to transfer to the Church power over worship, doctrine and clerical discipline.
General synod came into being in 1970. The Worship and Doctrine Measure was passed in 1974. The Church achieved the powers it wanted and for 32 years we have been lumbered with a voting system designed to keep most lay people at the margins of church life.
Why change now?
The vote on women bishops merely exposed the problem: that General Synod membership does not accurately reflect the views of dioceses, let alone the view from the pews.
My gut feeling is that for some time the government of the church has been drifting away from involving lay people. On the other hand I feel that the general culture of the Church seems to be moving slowly towards fuller inclusion of lay members.
Nonetheless the reality is that most are still excluded from substantive discussion about priorities, vision and direction.
Furthermore – and this has not changed from the 1960s – it is the lay people who very largely pay for the Church.
In the 1960s it was asserted that full lay participation would be too expensive and too complicated. But there are now far fewer members, and computers and the internet make practical arrangements so much easier and cheaper.
Notwithstanding elections for the President of the USA, a system of indirect votes for a governing body is indefensible. It is not fair, not inclusive, not functional.
One member : One vote
Paul Bagshaw, a fellow member of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, was a leading member of the Modern Church Union, for whom he has written several papers.
You can read his blog Not the same stream at http://notthesamestream.blogspot.com/, where he has written in more detail about this – see his post of 5 December ‘How We Got Here Briefly‘
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The illustration is an engraving of the interior of Lambeth Palace, with discussions about the governance of the Church of England in full flood, downloaded from Wikimedia.